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Anti-PED crusader Don Hooton disappointed in Alex Rodriguez

Don Hooton reacts after he throws out the

Don Hooton reacts after he throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. (August 11, 2009) Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

Sunday's brief pregame nod to anti-steroid crusader Don Hooton at Yankee Stadium could be taken as a keenly distressing reminder that Alex Rodriguez already had his shot at redemption. And struck out.

Not that Hooton wished to engage in a fairly saturated market of Rodriguez-bashing. But the timing of Hooton's appearance, for a long-ago scheduled fundraiser aimed at educating parents and coaches about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs, emphasized the ongoing Rodriguez delusion.

"Disappointed," Hooton said. "My feelings about Alex, the two words I've chosen to focus around, are 'sadness' and 'disappointment.' "

In 2003, Hooton's 17-year-old baseball-playing son, Taylor, committed suicide after bouts of anger and depression apparently related to his experiments with steroids. Don Hooton, citing the "terrible example" set by pros who doped, created the Taylor Hooton Foundation and a campaign that included congressional testimony that moved baseball commissioner Bud Selig to belatedly institute drug testing.

In 2009, when Rodriguez admitted to doping years earlier -- before baseball's drug ban -- but declared himself clean and enlightened, Hooton recruited him as a foundation spokesman.

"I would be remiss," Hooton said Sunday, "if I did not say Alex has done an outstanding job working with us." He repeatedly spoke to boys and girls clubs and schoolchildren in both New York and Miami.

"And his message," Hooton said, "has always been good" -- cautioning young athletes against drug use and advising them to rely on their God-given skills. "It's just sad, that after all of that, you've got one of the best players in the game who felt it necessary to go back to these drugs."

Based on Rodriguez's pending 211-game suspension, Hooton's foundation has cut formal ties with him, though Rodriguez continues to play through his appeal. And Sunday, there was this:

As Hooton stood behind home plate, publicly acknowledged 20 minutes before the game, six Yankees regulars loosened up in the outfield and several others milled in the dugout. Except for Rodriguez.

Only as Hooton left the field beyond the visitors' dugout did Rodriguez emerge from the tunnel to the Yankees' clubhouse.

"I'd like to sit down and talk," Hooton said. "The only way I can describe my feelings is that you don't get mad and punch your son when he makes a bad decision. And I'm certainly not claiming a father-son relationship with Alex or suggesting he's a kid; he's a grown adult. But it's just: We've given you the opportunity to be a role model, and it's just very disappointing that you chose to make a bad decision."

And now what should be told to all those youngsters Rodriguez counseled to forgo doping?

"For a 16-year-old kid, what message does he see?" Hooton said. "Just more confirmation that the way Ryan Braun, or any of these other guys, have made it to the top is by using drugs.

"Take Ryan Braun. What's his punishment? He's got to sit out a season [65 games], and he comes back to a hundred million-dollar contract. That makes it much more difficult to get to these kids."

Just as when tens of thousands of Yankees fans lustily cheered the disgraced Rodriguez for his home run and RBI single Sunday.

Was Rodriguez aware that Hooton was among the crowd?

"Oh, no," he said, walking away. "Love Don."

New York Sports